Luncheon meets US Ambassador on democracy project

Dr. Roger Luncheon yesterday met with United States Ambassador Brendt Hardt and expressed government’s position on the contentious USAID-funded Leadership and Democracy Project (LEAD) and the Ambassador promised to communicate it to his government.

“The Head of the Presidential Secretariat conveyed the Government of Guyana’s perspectives on a path forward for continued cooperation,” the US Embassy responded when asked by Stabroek News for an update, yesterday.

“The Ambassador agreed to share those perspectives with USAID and the U.S. Department of State with a view to finding a mutually agreeable way forward that would support the interests of the people of Guyana in strong and vibrant democratic institutions, civic education in advance of local government elections, and broader civic engagement among women and young Guyanese,” the statement added.

Stabroek News was told that the Ambassador met with Luncheon to discuss the continuation of the decades-long collaboration between the United States and Guyana in the areas of democracy and governance.

“Since 2009, such collaboration has been conducted within the framework of the ‘Assistance Agreement between the United States of America and Guyana for Governing Justly and Democratically,’ which runs through September 2015,” the statement noted.

The two sides met yesterday just days after the Donald Ramotar administration said it would not discuss the project while it was being implemented.

Calling the decision to proceed with the project “provocative,” the administration last week stated that there would be no further talks on the initiative unless it is suspended, with Luncheon saying the time had come for government to insist on its stance.

However, on Wednesday Luncheon informed that government would be meeting with Hardt at the Office of the President.

Luncheon could not be contacted for comment yesterday. Hardt had met with government’s delegation—President Ramotar, Foreign Affairs Minister Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett, and Presidential Advisor Gail Teixeira—on March 27th last. However, Luncheon had explained that government became aware that the project was still being implemented, prompting the reiteration of its objections.

Hardt, when asked in February at a Rotary function if the programme was continuing, had said that it was. He explained that since it was a budgeted programme, contracts were already signed with employees and the contractor implementing it, the International Republican Institute (IRI), had specified project timelines. However, he echoed previous statements saying that he was open to talks with government at any time and that it was free to “get onboard” the project whenever it saw fit.

Government had said that there were areas of concern with the programme, including its belief that political parties could receive financial support through the project—an assertion denied by Hardt.

According to Hardt, the project is intended to promote understanding, consensus building, strengthen the National Assembly, and encourage greater citizen engagement. He has also said its core elements were proposed after extensive consultations with the government and other stakeholders over the course of the past year.

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